Walcha have secured their spot in the 2018 Central North grand final with a thrilling victory over Moree at Weebolla Oval on Saturday.
The loss of five-eighth and talisman Simon Newton late in the first half due to injury wasn’t enough to stop the visitors from charging home to a 34-26 victory.
The Bulls came out of the gates strong, with Josh Walker putting the first points on the board.
A Walcha penalty saw the score 5-3, before a Bulls try and conversion made it 12-3. Ed Cordingley then went over the line for Walcha in the dying seconds of the first half to narrow the score 12-8 at half time.
The second half saw Walcha run away with the game, scoring the next 26 points.
Pushing into five-eighth, Pat Keen bumped off Bulls five-eighth Jamie Sampson and pushed his way over to put the Rams ahead with half an hour to play, and they were never headed from there, the inside centre sealing the victory with a runaway effort with just over 10 minutes remaining.
Bulls five-eighth Jamie Sampson put Ben Williams through with a pin-point pass that dissected the Rams midfield with eight minutes on the clock. Five minutes later half-back Nick Smith crossed the line for the Bulls and a successful conversion brought the margin back to 12, but it was too late.
Walcha co-coach Barry Hoy said it was a “whole-hearted team performance” that secured his side’s grand final berth.
“It was a pretty gutsy effort to get to what we did, especially losing one of our number one players in Simon [Newton] just before half time, so it was a pretty gutsy effort for them to hang on and work through it,” he said.
“That’s probably the first game we’ve played without him all season. He’s our number one point scorer. You start losing them blokes, it takes a fair effort to cover up.
“It was an extremely good effort.”
After a “loose” first half, Hoy said his side scrambled well in defence and the forwards stepped up to work good phases in the second half.
“They probably could have run a bit more because Moree were standing back and they had opportunities to run and they didn’t,” he said.
“In the second half they were going to have to because it was too hard to kick into the wind. They just had to tighten up in the forwards.
“The forwards got it back together and worked a few good phases together. We spent 15, 20 minutes down here just after half time just keeping it as controlled ball as we could.”
Bulls co-coach Mick Grant said while his side played well, penalties which didn’t go their way was what let them down in the end.
“Those 50/50 calls we just didn’t seem to get,” he said.
“That’s what hurt us the most I think. We just had no ball that second half and Walcha capitalised on that.
“We had a man in the sin-bin for an allegedly offside. With a side like Walcha you need your 15 men on the field all the time.”
Grant congratulated Walcha on the win.
“Full credit to Walcha, they showed up, and they just keep coming,” he said.
“They were good. Obviously with Newton going off early in the first half there we thought we had a very good chance. But they just keep showing up together, they’re a very strong side.”
The Rams now face last year’s premiership winners, Pirates in a re-match of the 2017 first grade grand final.